"Sputnik 1 fascinated and frightened vast numbers of people."
Don Mitchell, "Sputnik: 50 Years Ago"
The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957, thus triggering the space race with the United States.
Sputnik 1 was a nitrogen-filled sphere about the size of a beach ball—23 inches (58 cm) across—which orbited the Earth every ninety-six minutes. It had four long, whiplike aerials that transmitted information back to Earth. In November the same year, Sputnik 2 carried a living passenger, the dog Laika, into space. (It is thought that Laika only survived a few hours rather than the intended ten days because of stress and overheating.) By August 1960,when Sputnik 5was launched, two dogs, forty mice, two rats, and a collection of plants had been sent into orbit. The goal was the manned exploration of space. The United States were taken horribly by surprise by the more...